Moving from Graphic to UX Design — 9 things I learnt…

From my first moment of using Photoshop in 1997 right up until this afternoon creating Axure wireframes, I’ve always loved being involved in the design world.

I didn’t go to University so I felt like I had work harder to learn everything i could outside of education. Thankfully I was lucky. I worked on some incredible projects — branding, promotional material, exhibition stands, book covers, typesetting, album covers… I did it a LOT of different things (and that’s totally disregarding all my digital work).

Despite my concerns about being degree-less, it turned out that that wasn’t the thing I was missing. What I yearned for was the confidence of designing without knowing FOR SURE whether what I was doing was correct. Enter the stage: User Experience Design.

So, going from Graphic to UX design, what have I learnt?

1. Forget about being precious

Buckle up, it’s time to feel disappointed. You may’ve spent a whole bunch of time making those wireframes work beautifully or create art direction that looks awesome but if it doesn’t pass usability testing, none of that matters. This is why it’s good to test as early as possible to iron out problems that will lead to annoying changes later on. Even then, you may have a product launched after all the testing and iteration processes and it still doesn’t cut the mustard our in the real world. Don’t be afraid of scrapping your ideas for better suggestions made by others. Design for outcomes, not for initial pride. Trust me, the pride you feel when you see users successfully using your product more that makes up for the initial disappointment!

2. UX can apply to things outside of the digital space

Yeah, this one still kinda blows my mind. Any Graphic Designer who looks at UX jobs will immediately think ‘design for apps and websites’. But UX design in the physical space is a thing. The obvious example is Service Design which adheres to a User Centered Design principles but applies to people’s interaction with specific services like hospitals, airports etc. Genuinely fascinating stuff. But not only that, UX processes can be applied to ensure a print document is the best it can be. Basically, UX processes can be applied to many many design problems in all sorts of fields.

3. Design by committee (with other designers) is kinda good

As graphic designers will tell you, the one thing that fucks up a great piece of work is everybody chipping in. Too many cooks spoils the broth and other such overused sayings. However, UX can involved several designers and be much better for it. Some UXers go it alone as ‘Unicorns’, mythical creatures who can do the who UX process start to finish every time. I believe there’s a lot to be said for having some separation between the research and the art direction — sometimes, when you’ve been working with wireframes for weeks, it can be hard to see the visual possibilities outside of those wireframes.

4. There’s no going back

So just a quick background on last year of my life (bear with me, there is a point!)… I was working as a graphic/digital designer for about 10 years and decided to undertake the General Assembly UX course at the start of 2016. Straight after that course I did a few weeks freelancing as a UI designer. One of my first tasks was to come up with a interface design without any research attached to it. Just, out of thin air, just create something! Yeah, I’d been doing just that for 10 years but after learning the UX process — I felt like I didn’t know where to begin. Without any research into what the user needs, you’re designing assumptions, and we all know that assumptions are the mother of all…. well, y’know.

5. Print experience is still valuable

No matter what anybody says, people will always want printed materials. For me, paper and ink somehow feels more genuine and honest — probably because it’s more tactile and tangible than a digital product (at the moment at least). So, firstly, if you’re worried about moving from print to digital, don’t worry, those print jobs will still be there — even in digital agencies. Secondly, if you’ve ever done advanced typesetting, all that knowledge about rhythm, leading and sizing ratios etc etc, that won’t go unused in the digital world.

6. Sitting in front of a screen is boring

OK, I know that sounds obvious but seriously, UX gets you OUT THERE. And thank god for that. As a designer of any stripe, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll be sat in front of a computer for the majority of the time. However, the whole research phase of the UX process gets you in front of actually real-life people… Interviewing, card sorting, workshopping and then the testing, well, it just means you’re away from your computer as much as you’re tap-tap-tapping on your keyboard and mouse.

7. Creating wireframes isn’t UX

I was wireframing for a long long time before I was UXing, but I sure wasn’t a UX designer. Wireframes seem to be the main image in people’s minds that represents UX design the most when, although important, it’s only small part of what we do. Previously, I’ve seen Information Architecture jobs advertised with things like ‘…must be able to wireframe effectively’ included….. REALLY? I’m sure any self respecting applicant for that job CAN wireframe but it’s not really the main gist of the job is it?

8. Users know best, but they’re not designers

I think that a lot of people will think that, to get the user experience right, you just ask them what they want… you do, but not directly and you certainly don’t design what they think they want. It’s up to UX designers to understand user needs and design for them. Henry Ford summed it up nicely: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d have said ‘more horses’”.

9. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to be a UX designer

This point is aimed directly at newbies who feel they are at a disadvantage compared to others who have a background in graphic/digital design. Trust me, you’re not. The real fun side of UX is the research and testing part of the process — I would estimate that this makes up 80% of that process. Visual design is the pretty bit that’s thrown on the top but you don’t HAVE to know how to do this to be a great UXer. Quality research, data driven recommendations/decisions are the key points to worry about.

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So that’s my thoughts — so have missed any? Are you a graphic designer who has any thoughts? Get commenting! I’d love to know what you think :)